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Your tax dollars at work: State defends tourism slogan 'Honest to Goodness'

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indianapolis tourism leaders say the state’s folksy new “Honest to Goodness Indiana” slogan could hurt efforts to market the city as a vibrant destination with state-of-the-art facilities.

The Indiana Office of Tourism Development unveiled the new slogan in February, choosing it over “Seasoned Just Right” and “Savor the Unexpected.”

Mark Newman, executive director of the tourism office, told the Indianapolis Business Journal that “Honest to Goodness Indiana” was chosen because the other two finalists “felt more like campaigns than sustainable brands.”

But critics contend the new slogan doesn’t have anything to do with travel or tourism and could undermine Indianapolis’ efforts to promote itself as a cosmopolitan destination.

“We bend over backward to host a Super Bowl to make sure people don’t see us as a bunch of yokels and then (the tourism office) comes out with a campaign that plays into the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of hayseeds,” said George Evans, founder and creative director of Brandwidth LLC, an Indianapolis-based advertising and marketing agency. “I would understand the city of Indianapolis wanting to distance itself from this.”

“What we are is not awe shucks, golly gee whiz,” Evans added. “We’re progressive, a destination. What does ‘Honest to Goodness’ have to do with any of that?”

Competition for the state’s tourism dollars is fierce, with regions fighting to get their destinations highlighted in the state campaign. Many tourism officials around the state complained that the last brand platform - “Re-Start Your Engines” - was too focused on Indianapolis.

Newman said the “Honest to Goodness” platform is an attempt to “represent all areas of the state.”

At the core is the notion of Hoosier hospitality, Newman said, “but it’s so much more than that. It’s an attempt to elevate all the good things this state represents.”

Bruce Bryant, whose Indianapolis firm, Promotus Advertising, worked on the state’s campaign from 1989 to 1994, said the tourism department needs to focus on central Indiana to draw people in, then “up-sell them to the rest of Indiana.”

“You have to be honest - central Indiana is the biggest selling point to the state,” he said. “That doesn’t sit well with the other pockets of the state, but that’s the reality.”

The new campaign is being rolled out this month in St. Louis and Indianapolis. The ads set to hit the market are of small towns and picturesque countryside landscapes and highlight places like French Lick, Roanoke and Brown County.

Newman said the campaign will be expanded to include Indianapolis attractions such as the Indianapolis Zoo and the Central Canal.

"There’s no attempt here to keep Indiana in the 1950s,” Newman said. “We want to show people you can be hospitable but also be on a path to growth and prosperity. Whether attractions are in urban centers, small towns or the countryside, those can all be great honest-to-goodness Indiana stories.”

Jonathan Day, a professor of hospitality at Purdue University who specializes in brand destination, said he doesn’t think the state’s campaign is counterproductive to efforts to promote Indianapolis as a sophisticated destination.

“I think ‘Honest to Goodness’ is broad enough and true enough for tourism products around the state to rally under,” Day said. “Talking about the authenticity of the people and places here, the warmth of Hoosier hospitality - what a great way to start the conversations.”

 

Posted 3/11/2014